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Film Review: “The Artist’s Wife” Is a Heartfelt Story and an Engaging Experience

Written by: Adam Vaughn | September 24th, 2020

Film poster: “The Artist’s Wife”

The Artist’s Wife (Tom Dolby, 2020) 3½ out of 4 stars.

The Artist’s Wife tells the story of Claire Smythson, the wife of famous and renowned painter Richard Smythson, as she witnesses her husband’s descent into dementia. All the while, she contemplates if it’s too late to create a breakout work of art under her own name. The film quickly launches the viewer into this dilemma, and keeps us embracing the intimate setting between Claire (Lena Olin, Maya Dardel) and Richard (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) for the duration of the story.

The performances from Olin and Dern are a pivotal part of the film’s success. Both deliver engaging and relatable characters, with an empowering earnestness. Olin certainly leads the film with a strong sense of responsibility, playing a character towards the end of her years with the choice of caring for her beloved in his last breaths of life, or allowing herself to be selfish and pursue her own artistry. Dern is an excellent choice of actor for his role, having previously played the “older man with issues” part to perfection. Olin and Dern are supported by a solid ensemble, including Juliet Rylance (A Dog’s Purpose) as the couple’s daughter, Angela and Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap).

l-r: Brice Dern and Lena Olin in THE ARTIST’S WIFE ©Strand Releasing

The Artist’s Wife delivers prime emotional tension, as Richard’s condition worsens throughout the film. The story is driven by the surprising moments that arise through Claire’s perspective, and while it does tell a well-worn tale, The Artist’s Wife finds ways to make the film about more than just a man with dementia. The relationship that kindles between Claire and Angela, leading to the end of the film, really brings Claire’s story to a hopeful conclusion. I can certainly see people objecting to the character’s individual motivations and the directorial choices, however, as a whole the story delicately ties together its ideas and makes things cohesive.

The film’s overall ending has a very impactful and tasteful tone, tying together all of the main characters’ journeys in a unique way. One may argue that Claire’s final decision, in regard to Richard and his art exhibit, undermines her as a strong woman, but I personally found that Claire makes a very responsible choice; one that, as depicted in the last image of the film, will not only benefit her husband in the best way before his unavoidable fate, but also strengthen Claire and her relationships with the people around her.

Lena Olin in THE ARTIST’S WIFE ©Strand Releasing
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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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